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Monday, 16 July 2018 08:02

Hikers indulge in wild berries, scenic views while dodging hungry mosquitoes

Written by  Ice Age Trail Alliance Helwig’s hikes
Mike Ostrander of Janesville demonstrates his wild black raspberry-picking technique. Mike Ostrander of Janesville demonstrates his wild black raspberry-picking technique. Ellen Davis photo

The Tuesday hike report by Jake Gerlach: On a warm summer evening there were nine people for our hike. We had one new hiker, Elvie. Elvie has been a contributor to the Ice Age Trail Association but was just now getting around to coming on one of our hikes.

Earlier in the day I had been in my garden and could not work there because of the mosquitoes. I showed up for this hike with long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and a mosquito net that fits over my hiking hat. Most of the others were dressed in a similar manner. Due to the heat and the presence of mosquitoes, I decided to just hike around Lake LaGrange.

The prairie section of this hike had quite a few plants in bloom. When we reached Russ’s bench we paused for a water break.

When we finally got into the woods I had a cloud of mosquitoes flying around my head. The mosquitoes stayed with me till we got back to the parking lot. The protection worked quite well as only a few got under the net around my head.

The Wednesday short hike report by Ellen Davis: Today’s short hike had 14 participants, including two who were joining us for the first time — Lynn and Lynn. One of the first hikers they met today was Lynn L, bringing our Lynn total to three. Although impressive, it still can’t compete with our six (or is it seven?) Barbs and four or five Nancys.

Based on Jake’s terror-inducing description of the Tuesday hike’s battle with mosquitoes, we agreed to a hike on the wider and more open Nordic Trails. Well equipped with bug spray and/or mosquito nets, plus sunscreen and water, we set out heading north on the red trail. The woods were cool; the trail was lined with a scattering of mid-summer wildflowers — and, best of all, ripe wild black raspberries, on which several of us without mosquito dope on our fingers snacked shamelessly throughout the hike.

The heat and glare of the meadow was a shock after the green calm of the woods. Though we had hiked this area only two weeks before, a new set of wildflowers had taken over. The invasive spotted knapweed was done, replaced by native wild bergamot, white daisy fleabane and yellow prairie coneflowers.

We turned right at the signpost, re-entered the woods and headed down the hill to the next intersection. Jake gave us a choice: to continue on the red trail (2 1/2 miles) or take the second blue loop and the orange trail (three miles). Five chose the shorter route and we remaining nine began our trek on the more challenging trails.

We reached the bottom of the hill to find the trail lined with wild parsnip. This invasive is a photosensitizing plant — its juices make skin extremely sensitive to sunlight; touching it can cause unexpected and painful burns. Having passed through the wild parsnip field, we trudged up the endless hill and started across the next meadow. Sumac sported some fall colors on a few of the lowest leaves. Bees and butterflies investigated the wild bergamot. Queen Anne’s Lace, yarrow, St. John’s wort and common milkweed added touches of white, bright yellow and lavender.

We continued through the woods to the bench overlooking the kettle lake — a perfect place to drink water, re-adjust fanny packs and mosquito netting and admire the view. The last mile and a half seemed to go quickly despite stops at enticing berry bushes. Back at the trailhead, we found several of the hikers who had taken the shorter trail. All were pleased with our hikes today — and thankful that most of the mosquitoes apparently were busy elsewhere.

The Wednesday long hike report by Marvin Herman: Today the long hikers were presented with a Hobson’s Choice — the intense heat of the shadeless prairie or the attacking mosquitoes in the shady forest. A hike in Scuppernong Prairie along the Eagle segment of the Ice Age Trail was just the ticket.

Fourteen hikers met at the hunters lot off Wisconsin Highway 59 and carpooled to the Wisconsin Highway 67 trailhead of the IAT. The plan was to hike back to our cars. Headnets were used in the wooded areas and were removed on the prairie, which was free of the little biters.

Along the trail, we saw a compass plant, bee balm, coneflowers, Michigan lily, Culver’s root and lots of milkweed. A few monarch butterflies were observed and a sandhill crane walked alone through the brush near the trail.

As we crossed Wilton Road we met Ron leading two hikers on a shorter hike. At the intersection of County Highway NN we saw Ruth McCann and her dog hanging out with Pat Witkowski of the Waukesha chapter, who was doing some maintenance.

Soon we heard through the bushes the pleasant sound of laughing children. As we rounded the bend, we saw Leah Bradley leading a Summer Saunters program of children from Goodrich School in Milwaukee.

This Ice Age Trail Association program offers opportunities to inner-city youth to experience the IAT and other hiking trails in the area. After posing for a photo with the kids and their leaders, we continued on our way back to the parking lot, a total distance of just over five miles.

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